MARS — By the time spring blooms, the borough could be the new owner of a former church and its surrounding property.
During a meeting of borough council Monday, council unanimously approved a resolution agreeing to the purchase of five parcels of land that make up the former Dutilh United Methodist Church campus at the corner of Pittsburgh Street and Lincoln Avenue.
The purchase agreement comes after months of discussion among council members and borough officials to determine the potential use of the space, which has been vacant since last summer.
That's when the idea to purchase the campus came from members of the church congregation. They approached borough officials with the idea, and asked the church to consider giving the property to the borough. However, United Methodist bylaws prevented the property from being donated, although church officials said they hoped the property could be used to benefit the community.
The church was put up for sale, and after months of discussion, a letter of intent was submitted to church officials in December and was accepted.
On Monday, council President Michael Fleming said the purchase presents an opportunity for the borough that it hasn't been seen in a while. He said the five parcels — the church building, a home and an education building and two parking lots — are deeded separately, but the borough intends to purchase them as a package. He said having a space more centrally located to downtown Mars would benefit the community as a whole.
The education building would serve as office and meeting space, as the borough council has outgrown its current home.
“As you can see, our meeting room is filling up and we don't have a lot of room to go here,” Fleming told those gathered, who took up all of the available chairs and standing room.
The education building also is more compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act, and could be expanded for even further access. Fleming added that the third floor could be rented out, as could the house. The parking lots would be available for public use, and would be beneficial for borough business. Additionally, the campus would allow for storage of borough equipment.
Fleming noted that the ultimate goal is to move police operations to the building, although that would happen later.
There are no immediate plans for the church building itself, although there has been a focus on creating a community center space. Fleming said conversations will continue about how to best utilize that space, but it will be “community oriented.”
“I think it's going to move the borough forward and I think it's going to move the community forward,” he said.
Councilman Bradford Price noted the borough does not have a community center, with the Mars Public Library serving as a de-facto space.
“We lean on them a lot and they're very gracious to open their doors for us, but it'd be nice to have some space,” he said.
Tom Parkinson, senior pastor at Dutilh United Methodist Church, told council he was appreciative of the kindness and careful consideration given to the purchase. He said he is pleased to see the plans taking shape.
“I think the opportunity to both preserve the legacy of those buildings while also benefiting the community feels like a really positive thing both for the borough of Mars and also for our church,” he said.
After passing the resolution, which is subject to the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development's approval, a sales agreement will be signed and submitted by Monday. The details of the sale have not yet been finalized, as discussions on funding are ongoing.
Fleming said the process could be slow, but a March 15 target date for the sale to be completed is desired.
“We will go as fast as (the DCED) will let us,” Fleming said. “We will not delay it.”
Fleming added that the borough is in a good position to take advantage of the opportunity, as the water plant was recently paid off and there is “very limited” debt.
“We're certainly not wealthy by any means, but we have reasonable stability in our budget, and to attempt to create similar square footage of functional space would far exceed the price for the entire complex,” he said. “These (opportunities) just don't come along every day.”